Celebrating Virginia Johnson: Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Warm Note

Virginia Johnson, founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, is retiring from her role as the company’s Artistic Director in July 2023. 


I was honored to have created this tribute video, “Dear Virginia,” with my collaborators (Anna Glass, djassi daCosta johnson, and Ashli Bickford) celebrating her prolific career!

I first met and got to know Virginia when she began her role as Artistic Director in 2013. 

Before that, she was a dancer in the company for thirty years, and went on to found Pointe Magazine where she was editor-in chief for 10 years! This April was also Virginia’s last run with the company at New York City Center

Nel Shelby Productions has worked with Dance Theatre of Harlem for many many years and we truly appreciate the deep and rich collaboration. 

I worked on this project with Anna Glass, Executive Director of DTH, and djassi daCosta johnson, who wrote the script. djassi’s daughter is an actress and volunteered to do the voiceover along with DTH dancers Amanda Smith and Christopher Charles McDaniel. We had a lot of fun during the process and became really good friends!

HUGE thanks, as always, to amazing editor Ashli Bickford!

We edited and finalized the film over about a week. We collected SO many photos and videos of Virginia, and it was so fascinating to view all of this footage from her decades-long career. 

The film premiered at Dance Theatre of Harlem’s gala on April 20 as a surprise for Virginia. It was a real tear jerker moment for this amazing woman, and it truly was an honor to create. 

I’m so proud of what we made together over such a short period of time! 

Congratulations, Virginia, on a beautiful career.

Nel Shelby is Owner & Filmmaker for Nel Shelby Productions, her New York City-based company dedicated to dance videography and editing. Nel shares her mission to preserve and promote the art of dance with her husband, Christopher Duggan, a dance and wedding photographer. They collaborate on projects with dance companies of worldwide renown, up-and-coming choreographers, dance educators, dance schools and more. Nel is Video Producer at Jacob’s Pillow and Vail Dance Festival and is also the proud Director and Producer of PS DANCE! — a New York Emmy-nominated documentary about dance education in NYC’s public schools.